The One That Got Away

New York doesn’t have a heart. She will forget you the minute you leave her. Turns out you loved her more than she ever loved you. She immediately traded you in for a younger model, one without a family. Or a model who has made it financially in a way you never will. Or a model who is just more fucking tenacious than you are, a model who won’t give up and leave just because living with her is hard.

I have had two great loves in my life. Z and New York. For years I was married to both of them, but Z grew to despise the third wheel in our marriage. Hell, he and I grew to despise each other as well. My love for the city was the only constant in our lives. It would have made sense to give up on our marriage. It was a shambles. But somehow we decided to choose each other. Which meant there was no longer room for the city. I passionately loved her, but she wasn’t good for me anymore.

We moved away 8 years ago. My husband has a heart. He loves me back. He doesn’t seem interested in trading me in for a younger model. I made the right choice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn my other love. Or wonder what might have been.

I was in New York for a few days to attend a conference at the UN. Thursday night I splurged on a cab to Brooklyn. The drive down Atlantic Avenue felt like a slap in the face. For every veterinary clinic sign that greeted me like an old friend there was a new clothing store, or real estate office, or yoga place that I didn’t recognize. Hank’s Saloon was still there, placating me a little. But then the behemoth that is the Barclays Center loomed over the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, completely disorienting me.  This was no longer my city. I am not a New Yorker anymore.

If we had stayed the changes would have felt organic, unnoticeable. On the way back to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon I stopped at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese hole in the wall in Chinatown. Z took me there for the first time in the summer of 1998. You want cheap, fast, delicious food? It’s your place. The wait staff was mainly the same as it was 16 summers ago, and 12 summers ago, and 8 summers ago.  I felt a goofy grin take over my face when the elder statesman of the waiters came to take my order. But the grin faltered when I realized one side of his face was a little slack. He must have had a stroke. He didn’t remember me, but he was delighted that I knew how to eat the spring rolls properly, wrapped in half of a lettuce leaf with a cucumber slice and a mint leaf tucked inside. He might have been the one that showed me and Z how do to it back in the 90s. I wanted to hug him when I left. Of course I ignored that impulse and swallowed back tears as I hustled to the subway.

Me heart was pulled in new directions. As I road the 5 train downtown I didn’t try to catch or avoid the eye of the cute guy in the same car. Anyone who has lived in the city knows exactly what I’m talking about. I swear the subway system runs on hormones and the flirtations of strangers. But the cute guy didn’t hold my attention. The three year old boy seated next to me did. He absentmindedly leaned into me and hooked his little leg around my own. His small but solid bulk comforted me. When the train pulled into Union Square I didn’t want to get off. I could have sat next to him for hours.

I missed my boys. The piercing pain of being away from them took my breath away. Don’t I always beg for a break? Isn’t getting away for a few days good for me and them? Of course, but Z and I were away for 5 days in January. I guess I need time off less frequently than I assumed.

I missed my boys, all three of them. But something magical happens to me in the city. My anxiety might have been in the stratosphere leading up to the trip, but once I stepped into the city I relaxed. There is nowhere in the world where I feel more at ease. Since the first time I visited the city as a high-schooler it felt like the center of the world and exactly where I wanted to be. If we moved back she would be mine again in a matter of months. And part of me is hers, part of me will always be hers.

nha trang

The place setting hasn’t changed at Nha Trang since I’ve been going there.

gwb

Amtraking it home. Riding under the GWB.

Hudson

An icy Hudson River.

A big thank you to my dear friends A and M for opening their home to me. Do you know what was even better than being in New York? Having a night to laugh with A. I miss the hell out of her. But she is the kind of friend that is simply too good to let slip away. I’ll be calling her for advice decades from now. M ain’t so bad himself.

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